Friday, February 6, 2009

The Top 30 College Baseball Recruits for 2010

In the final installment of our 2009 College Preview we take a look into a future as we provide the top 30 recruits for 2010. Of course, many of these players will sign pro contracts after being drafted in June and will never step foot on a college campus.

1) Tyler Matzek, LHP; Oregon – This projectable lefty boasts a polished four-pitch repertoire, including a 93-94 mph fastball.

2) Shelby Miller, RHP; Texas A&M – Rapidly rising up draft boards due to easy mid 90's velocity and much improved offspeed stuff.

3) Matt Purke, LHP; Texas Christian – Eerily similar to Matzek, however he's not as developed physically and his motion is more three-quarters.

4) Austin Maddox, C; Florida – Simply put, a beast. An intimidating presence both at the plate and behind it.

5) Jacob Turner, RHP; North Carolina – Well-proportioned power pitcher with two plus pitches and the command of a college upperclassman.

6) Donavan Tate, OF; North Carolina – The best athlete in the entire draft. Lethal bat, laser arm and blazing speed. Also a prized football recruit.

7) Zach Wheeler, RHP; Kennesaw State – His commitment to a third-tier program all but ensures that he'll head straight to the pro ranks.

8) Matt Davidson, 3B; USC – Coming off a down junior season, he torched showcase pitching all summer.

9) Luke Bailey, C; Auburn – The best all-around catcher in a loaded high school crop. Could easily start right now for most Division I programs.

10) Tyler Skaggs, LHP; Cal State Fullerton – Not as mechanically-sound as Matzek and Purke, but has just as much velocity with more room for projection.

11) Bobby Borchering, 3B; Florida – Displays startling power from both sides of the plate. An adequate fielder who should be able to stick at the hot corner.

12) Jonathan Walsh, C; Texas – Very athletic for a catcher. Smacks the ball from both sides of the plate and has exceptional mobility and a nice arm behind it.

13) Madison Younginer, RHP; Clemson – Superb mechanics and a picture perfect pitcher's build. Mixes a 90-93 mph fastball with a solid curveball and changeup.

14) Jeff Malm, 1B; USC – His smooth swing and slick fielding conjure up memories of a Casey Kotchman circa 2001.

15) Brian Goodwin, OF; North Carolina – His pure hitting/speed package elicit Curtis Granderson comparisons. A true center fielder.

16) Jiovanni Mier, SS; USC – Acrobatic fielder whose offense has started to catch up to the rest of his game. Enjoyed an excellent showcase season.

17) Mychal Givens, P/SS; Oklahoma State – Despite highlight reel ability at shortstop, his future's on the mound. Throws 95 mph easy with a good curveball.

18) Max Stassi, C; UCLA – Fantastic catch-and-throw skills, including a gun for an arm. Also displays surprising pop given his smallish stature.

19) Ian Krol, LHP; Arizona – A "finesse" lefty who has three plus pitches including a 90+ mph fastball.

20) Matt Hobgood, RHP; Cal State Fullerton – Already enormous and hasn't stopped growing. Rough mechanics could land him in the pen full-time.

21) Deven Marrero, SS; Arizona State – Silky-smooth fielder with an ideal shortstop's build. His bat lags behind his glove but is rapidly improving.

22) Jacob Marisnick, OF; Oregon – Projection oozes from his lithe, yet muscular, frame. A five-tool athlete who resembles Dale Murphy on the diamond.

23) Richie Shaffer, 3B; Clemson – A prototypical third baseman with a howitzer for an arm and immense power potential. Would likely start as a freshman.

24) LeVon Washington, 2B; Florida – The fastest player on this list who can play anywhere in the middle of the diamond. Potent bat with plenty of gap power.

25) Keyvius Sampson, RHP; Florida State – Live body and live arm. Already throws 92-94 mph and projects to throw harder once he matures.

26) Patrick Schuster, LHP; Florida – Has very similar mechanics to Purke, though his stuff isn't as crisp.

27) Chad James, LHP; Oklahoma State – Yet another lanky lefty whose three-pitch mix includes low 90's heat.

28) Slade Heathcott, OF; LSU – Can hit 94 mph from the mound, but his future lies elsewhere. Lightning quick bat and a strong, accurate arm from the outfield.

29) Will Myers, 3B; South Carolina – Accomplished athlete who has both caught and pitched in high school. Has undeniable power potential.

30) Danny Aldrich, OF; Wake Forest – A picture-perfect left-handed stroke. MVP of the '08 Summer World Wood Bat Tournament.

2009 Preseason College Baseball All-Freshman Teams

The 2009 College Preview continues today with our Preseason Freshman All-America Teams.

First Team

Catcher – Jordan Swaggerty, Arizona State – Will initially share catching duties with JuCo transfer Carlos Ramiriez and should also see time in Coach Murphy's bullpen.

First Base – Danny Hultzen, Virginia – He very easily could have made this list as a pitcher, but he swung the Cavaliers' most potent bat in the fall.

Second Base – Tony Rendon, Rice – His athletic ability will enable him to play all over the diamond for Coach Graham. Looked great in fall ball.

Shortstop – Andy Burns, Kentucky – Highest ranked high school prospect in Colorado held his own as a 17-year-old in the Northwoods League last summer.

Third Base – Zack Cox, Arkansas – Has prodigious raw power from the left side and a cannon arm at the hot corner. Will be draft eligible as a sophomore.

Outfield – Brian Humphries, Pepperdine – If he develops more power he has more upside than any other position player on this list. Should lead off in '09.

Outfield – Zach Cone, Georgia – Breathtaking five tool potential yet still very raw. Might see only limited playing time this year.

Outfield – Chase Davidson, Georgia – Has the most power in the entire freshman class, however he's streaky. Runs well for his size and has a strong throwing arm.

Designated Hitter – Harold Martinez, Miami – Will try to reverse a disappointing end to his high school career. Expected to start immediately at third base for the Hurricanes.

Pitcher – Gerrit Cole, UCLA – The most highly touted member of his class. Turned down $2 million from the Yankees and will bring his 97 mph heater to Westwood.

Pitcher – Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt – An arm injury and an ironclad Vandy commitment severely hurt his draft stock. Will probably begin as a weekday starter.

Pitcher – Alex Meyer, Kentucky – He turned down $2 million and a trip on Red Sox owner John Henry's private plane for a chance to pitch for his mother's alma matter.

Pitcher – Michael Palazzone, Georgia – Lanky projectable build with best curveball in '08 high school class. Also features a 92-94 MPH fastball.

Pitcher – Mark Pope, Georgia Tech – Will break in as G-Tech's closer, but he's too good to remain in the bullpen for his entire college career.

Second Team

Catcher – Ben McMahon, Florida – Will start immediately for the Gators and contribute both on offensive and defense.

First Base – Ricky Oropesa, Southern California – USC's lone marquee freshman should be a fixture in the middle of the lineup right out of the gate.
Second Base – Riccio Torres, Arizona State – Joins older brother Raoul in the Sun Devils' infield. Already has enough plate discipline to be an effective lead-off hitter.

Shortstop – Brandon Loy, Texas – He leveraged an excellent fall into a starting assignment in the spring. A defensive whiz.

Third Base – Shane Kroker, Wake Forest – A defensive standout who could probably start at shortstop for most teams. However, questions about his bat remain.

Outfield – Cory Farris, Kentucky – This former All-Kentucky running back showcased his exceptional strength with mammoth home runs in fall ball.

Outfield – Bryan Haar, San Diego – Uber-athletic middle-of-the-field player who enjoyed a banner summer in Alaska.

Outfield – Austin Stadler, Wake Forest – Had an eye-opening fall, hitting .396. Should also see time on the mound, where he led the Deacons in scrimmages with 21 strikeouts.

Designated Hitter – Zack Wilson, Arizona State – Will see action all over the diamond in '09. Hits the ball with authority to all fields.

Pitcher – Daniel Marrs, Wake Forest – Improved conditioning has allowed him to tighten up his body and improve his endurance. Should see action as a weekend starter.

Pitcher – Nick Maronde, Florida – Excellent mound presence and moxie are overshadowed by three quality pitches, including a low 90's fastball with tailing action.

Pitcher – Brett Mooneyham, Stanford – Will compete for a spot in the Cardinal's weekend rotation. His father, Bill, pitched in the majors with Oakland.

Pitcher – Brian Busick, Stanford – A pro body with four above average pitches. A near lock to be a weekend starter in 2010. Will serve in the bullpen until then.

Pitcher – Anthony Fazio, Rice – He'll compete with fellow freshman Taylor Wall for the Sunday starter role. The loser will start mid-week.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

College Baseball Second Team Preseason All-Americans

We continue our college preview by presenting our Preseason Second Team All-Americans. As was the case with the First Team, all players selected for this squad are done so based on their performance as well as their pro potential.


Micah Gibbs, Sophomore, Louisiana State – A cerebral catcher in the Jason Varitek mold. Also is a switch-hitter, like Varitek, with pop from both sides of the plate. His compact body allows him to effectively block pitches in the dirt. Has the strong arm and quick release necessary to stop any running game.

First Base

Hunter Morris, Sophomore, Auburn – The most imposing power hitter in the sophomore class. Makes surprising contact for the style of hitter he is and has showed the ability to work a walk. An average first baseman with soft hands but substandard footwork and range.

Second Base

Kyle Seager, Junior, North Carolina – An excellent pure hitter who makes plenty of contact with hard backspin. His swing rarely gets long due to his simple, mechanically sound approach. A former shortstop, he has more than enough arm for second and is adept at turning the double play.


Rick Hague, Sophomore, Rice – A physical shortstop in the same mold as Green. He centers the ball well and has good loft in his swing. Is sure-handed with plenty of range and a cannon arm. Missed summer ball due to shoulder surgery, but should be ready to go by spring.

Third Base

Chris Dominguez, Red Shirt Junior, Louisville – By far the most power of any collegiate. First player on the Cape to hit three homers in one game since Frank Thomas in 1988. A solid fielder but will probably outgrow third base. Returned to school after being selected in the 5th round by the Rockies.


Brett Jackson, Junior, California (Berkeley) – Perhaps the best raw athlete on either team, he was a standout football player in high school. Started to put it all together last summer on the Cape, where he flashed an intimidating power/speed combo. Should be able to stay in center field as a pro.

Brett Eibner, Sophomore, Arkansas – Earned more accolades as a pitcher in high school but has tremendous upside as a hitter. Though still somewhat raw, he's showed good power to all fields as well as the ability to hit for average. His speed/arm combo enables him to play anywhere in the outfield.

Matt den Dekker, Junior, Florida – A dynamic all-around player. A line drive machine who's developed more punch as he's filled out. Has had difficulty hitting with wood, however. Has blazing speed in addition to being an intelligent base runner. A true center fielder with an adequate arm.

Designated Hitter

Marc Krauss, Junior, Ohio – The second-best pure hitter in the college ranks after Ackley, but lacks Ackley's athleticism. Stung the ball the entire summer on the Cape and was especially proficient going the other way. Has an average arm, but poor speed could result in a move to first base.

Starting Pitchers

Kyle Blair, Sophomore, San Diego – Should battle Harvey as the best collegiate pitcher in 2010. Reminds many scouts of Kevin Brown due to his build and terrific command of a mid 90's power sinker and vicious slider. Sat out most of last summer because of a heavy spring workload.

Brandon Workman, Sophomore, Texas – Was unhittable at times on the Cape last summer, mixing a boring 93-95 mph fastball with an above average slider and developing changeup. His large, sturdy build should enable him to become a front-of-the-rotation horse at the next level.

Chance Ruffin, Sophomore, Texas – The son of 12-year major league veteran Bruce Ruffin, he has the moxie and poise you'd expect from someone with such a pedigree. He also has first-rate stuff, including a fastball he can dial into the mid-90's, a hammer curve and serviceable changeup.

Mike Minor, Junior, Vanderbilt – Compares favorably to former Commodore Jeremy Sowers. Throws the kitchen sink at hitters -- a 88-91 mph fastball, spike curveball, slider and circle changeup. Not an intimidating mound presence, but should evolve into a reliable #3 in pro ball.

Barret Loux, Sophomore, Texas A&M – A big, flamethrowing Texan in the same mold as Workman, He uses an electric mid-90's fastball to set up his power curve and above average changeup. A well-conditioned athlete who maintains his velocity well into the late innings.


Jason Stoffel, Junior, Arizona – Strong, compact build with especially thick legs. Throws a low 90's fastball with good movement as well as a power curve. Perfect closer mentality -- never gets rattled and has a short memory. Threw a plus changeup in high school but hasn't needed it in college.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

College Baseball Preseason First Team All-Americans

In today’s column we continue to prepare for the upcoming college season by presenting our Preseason First Team All-Americans. Just one note, however. The players selected for this team are done so based on their performance as well as their pro potential. This is especially important for position players, who will have to make the transition from aluminum bats to wood once their collegiate days are over. As a result, preferential treatment is admittedly given to hitters who have enjoyed success swinging wood bats in summer league play.


Ryan Ortiz, Junior, Oregon State – An offense-first catcher who has made significant strides defensively. Extremely quick to the ball. Has also added power as he's filled out. His quick release compensates for a fringe average arm. Needs more work blocking pitches in the dirt.

First Base

Ben Paulsen, Junior, Clemson – Generates terrific power with a balanced left-handed stroke. Unlike most home run hitters, he has almost no uppercut. His swing does get long at times, however, which leaves him susceptible to high, hard stuff. A slick fielder with exceptionally soft hands.

Second Base

Robbie Shields, Junior, Florida Southern – Don't let the Division II school fool you. He derives outstanding bat speed from strong wrists and forearms, which results in power to all fields. Currently a shortstop, but his lack of range will likely force a move to second. His bat also projects at the hot corner.


Grant Green, Junior, Southern California – A new generation, five-tool shortstop in the mold of Troy Tulowitzki. Gets good extension on his swing with the ability to hit for both average and power. Sure-handed in the field with a cannon arm. Should be a top five pick in June.

Third Base

Derek Dietrich, Sophomore, Georgia Tech – A strong left-handed hitter in the Robin Ventura mold. Has undeniable power but is also adept at shortening his stroke with two strikes. He might outgrow shortstop, but his arm plays anywhere on the diamond. A probable first round pick in 2010.


Dustin Ackley, Junior, North Carolina – A hitting machine who sprays line drives all over the field with a short, crisp swing. Boasts great speed. Should be ready to man center field in '09 after undergoing Tommy John Surgery last summer. The second-highest ranked position player after Green.

Kentrail Davis, Sophomore, Tennessee – Draft eligible sophomore has a potent left-handed bat capable of scorching line drives to all fields. Runs very well despite stocky build, though he's expected to slow considerably once he reaches his late 20's. A poor fielder whose weak arm limits him to left field.

A.J. Pollack, Junior, Notre Dame – Despite two solid seasons in South Bend, he didn't gain notoriety until he hit .377 on the Cape in '08 while flashing an impressive mix of power and speed. A solid center fielder who could enhance his value by moving to second base in the pros.

Designated Hitter

Blake Smith, Junior, California (Berkeley) – An interesting two-way player. At the plate he reminds scouts of Ryan Klesko with his light-tower power. On the mound he hits 93 mph on the gun and also features a sharp curveball. He currently profiles best as a rifle-armed, power-hitting right fielder.

Starting Pitchers

Stephen Strasburg, Junior, San Diego State – The most complete college pitching prospect since Mark Prior in '01. Throws a fastball which reaches the high 90's, a hammer curve and solid changeup, all with extraordinary command. Has a large, durable frame and sound mechanics.

Alex White, Junior, North Carolina – Another premier pitching prospect. Repertoire features a fastball in the mid 90's and a wicked slider, though he must work on his command and fine tune his changeup. Accomplished athlete with the stamina necessary to maintain his velocity deep into games.

Kyle Gibson, Junior, Missouri – The latest stud in a long line of Missouri aces. Already hits the low 90's with his fastball and should add a few more ticks once he fills out. Also throws the best slider in the college ranks. However, he still needs to tighten his motion and refine his mechanics.

Andrew Oliver, Junior, Oklahoma State – Eligibility is in doubt due to alleged relationship with a pro agent. Still, his talent is evident every time he takes the mound. Throws a heavy 92-93 mph two-seamer as well as a cutter. Curveball and changeup also show promise. Pinpoint control.

Matt Harvey, Sophomore, North Carolina – Likely the #1 ranked pitcher in 2010. Throws a lively 92-94 mph fastball with late, darting life, in addition to a first-rate curve and changeup. Excellent mound presence. His lanky build and easy arm action leave plenty of room for projection.

Relief Pitcher

Kendal Volz, Junior, Baylor – Had far more success coming out of the bullpen for Team USA than as a starter for Baylor. Throws mid 90's heat with a power curveball. His lack of a changeup and intimidating mound presence could translate into a closer role in pro ball.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The College Baseball Preseason Top 40

With the college baseball season set to kick of later this month (Opening Day is Friday, February 20th across the country), now is an ideal time to switch gears and talk some ping. We’ll dedicate this week’s columns to previewing the 2009 college season. Here’s the lineup:

Today we’ll give our Preseason Top 40.

Tomorrow we’ll provide our Preseason First Team All-Americans.

Wednesday our Preseason Second Team All-Americans will be available.

Thursday we’ll uncover the Freshman All-Americans.

Finally, Friday we’ll cover the Top Thirty Recruits for 2010.

So, without further ado, here’s your Preseason Top 40 for 2009:

1) North Carolina -- No school has a 1-2 starting pitching tandem as intimidating as Alex White and Matt Harvey.

2) Louisiana State -- They have college baseball's most toxic lineup with a perfect mix of speed, power and high average hitters.

3) Rice – Will Rick Hague be next year's Grant Green?

4) Texas – Chance Ruffin, Brandon Workman, Cole Green, Cameron Rupp & Kevin Keyes give the 'Horns the best sophomore class in the nation.

5) Texas A&M – Barret Loux, Alex Wilson, Brooks Raley and Clayton Ehlert represent the deepest starting pitching quartet in the country.

6) Stanford – Brent Milleville, Joey August and Jeff Whitlow will add senior experience to an otherwise underwhelming lineup.

7) Clemson – Once again, Coach Leggett fields the deepest team in the ACC.

8) San Diego – The million dollar question -- Will Kyle Blair be able to replace Brian Matusz at the top of USD's vaunted rotation?

9) Georgia Tech – Coach Hall's decision to insert freshman Mark Pope into the closer's role speaks volumes as to the sorry state of the Yellow Jackets' bullpen.

10) Missouri – Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow………Kyle Gibson. Mizzou is developing quite a pitching legacy.

11) Cal State Fullerton – Gary Brown, Christian Colon and Josh Fellhauer are all locks to steal 20 bases in '09.

12) Oklahoma State – Much of their success will hinge on whether stud southpaw Andy Oliver is deemed eligible by the NCAA.

13) Baylor – This is the last chance for Kendal Volz, Aaron Miller and Dustin Dickerson to justify all the hype that surrounded them as incoming freshman.

14) Georgia – Growing pains? On any one day there might be as many as four freshman starting for Coach Perno.

15) Miami (FL) – The loss of Erik Erickson to arm surgery could have a devastating effect on the Hurricanes' pitching staff.

16) Arkansas – Brett Eibner is the best prospect no one's ever heard of.

17) Arizona State – Will this year's freshman crop be as good as the one from '06? It better be because the Sun Devils' fortunes depend on it.

18) Mississippi – After Arizona State's Carlos Ramirez, David Phillips will be the JuCo transfer to make the biggest impact in '09.

19) Florida State – Unlike highly-ranked FSU squads of the past, this year's version has no surefire early round picks.

20) Kentucky – The Wild Cats will get as far as the freshman trio of Alex Meyer, Andy Burns and Cory Farris take them.

21) Louisville – 6'4" 240 lbs man-child Chris Dominguez gives new meaning to the moniker "Louisville Slugger."

22) UCLA – Gerrit Cole is our early favorite for Freshman of the Year.

23) UC Irvine – Talk about underwhelming on paper -- we'd be shocked if ONE player from this team advances past Double A in pro ball.

24) California (Berkeley) -- If Brett Jackson puts it all together he could emerge as the Pac-10's most dynamic player.

25) Florida – There's always next year. The Gators are the unanimous choice for the strongest 2010 recruiting class. However, that may change on draft day.

26) Oklahoma – As good as the Sooners are, they're only the consensus sixth-best team in the Big 12.

27) Fresno State – On paper, the Bulldogs look merely pedestrian. Then again, last year this time people were saying the exact same thing about the defending champs.

28) Southern California – He's still only 19, yet we've seemingly been waiting forever for junior Robert Stock to bust out.

29) Pepperdine – Seeing how newcomer Brian Humphries develops will be one of this year's most interesting storylines. He has a chance to be a five-tool superstar.

30) Coastal Carolina – If Scott Woodward hangs around for all four years he's almost a sure bet to swipe 200 bags.

31) Tulane – The Green Wave will battle East Carolina all season for the C-USA's second slot behind perennial powerhouse Rice.

32) Michigan – Chris Fetter is faced with the daunting task of replacing departed staff ace Zach Putnam.

33) East Carolina – Say all you want about Rice and its dominance, but sophomore Seth Maness could easily emerge as the C-USA'a top pitcher in 2009.

34) Alabama – Brandon May, Ross Wilson, Josh Rutledge and Jake Smith comprise college baseball's most talented all-around infield.

35) Nebraska – With six teams ranked in front of them in the Big 12, the Cornhuskers would have to put together a dream season to make it to the 64-team dance.

36) Auburn – Watching Kevin Patterson and Hunter Morris hit is in itself worth the price of admission.

37) Wichita State – The fact that Wichita State is ranked first in the MVC after losing its six best players speaks to the weakness of the MVC more than anything else.

38) South Carolina – Huge shoes to fill…..Justin Smoak, Phil Disher, Reese Havens and James Darnell took 79 home runs and 267 RBI with them to the pros.

39) Virginia – The Cavaliers have a solid core of underclassmen, but replacing David Adams, Greg Miclat, Jeremy Farrell and Jacob Thompson is a lot to

40) Oregon State -- If their pitching performs up to expectations, the Beavers could easily shock people and wind up in Omaha for the third time in four years.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Yankees and Royals: Birds of a Feather?

The New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals should NEVER be mentioned in the same column, let alone the same sentence or headline. The Yankees are baseball’s consummate high rent tenant, perennially fielding the sport’s best paid team while playing in America’s largest city and media capital. Oh, and they’re pretty good too, having made the playoffs in 13 of the last 14 seasons. The Royals, on the other hand, play in one of baseball’s smallest markets, continually have one of the game’s lowest payrolls and have finished over .500 just ONCE during those same 14 seasons.

Their differences aside, the Yankees and Royals actually shared the back page this morning when both teams made superb personnel decisions. New York signed veteran lefty Andy Pettitte to a bargain basement one–year contract worth $5.5 million plus incentives, while Kansas City inked young ace Zack Greinke to a four-year deal worth $38 million.

To state each of the reasons why the Pettitte move was a good one for the Yankees would be an academic exercise at this point as every media outlet from ESPN to has dedicated valuable time and effort to that very task. However, the one benefit of the deal we feel obliged to discuss is the tremendous amount of flexibility it gives Yankees skipper Joe Girardi.

In Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, Girardi has at his disposal two young, ultra-talented right-handers. Yet both have serious questions as the 2009 season approaches. After bouncing from the bullpen to the starting rotation in ’08, Chamberlain’s assignment for this season is still somewhat murky, as is the general consensus regarding his durability as a starter.

Hughes endured a horrid ’08 campaign after logging only a handful innings in Triple A, and many in the game feel strongly that he needs more minor league seasoning before giving the big leagues another shot.

The re-signing of Pettitte allows New York greater latitude in dealing with Chamberlain and Hughes. Rather than having to once again force feed Hughes, the Yankees now have the luxury of giving Hughes all the time he needs in AAA. However, should the 22-year-old be lights out this spring and prove that he’s ready for primetime, Chamberlain can shift to the bullpen (where many analysts, including this writer, feel he belongs anyway), where he can serve as a caddy for Mariano Rivera. Rivera, it should be noted, turns 40 later this year and is recovering from shoulder surgery.

As an aside, we feel Pettitte will have a strong year. Not only will he be supported by a better defense and lineup, as well as have the incentive of earning an additional $6.5 million in assorted roster/performance bonuses, but he’ll also be pitching for a shot at the Hall of Fame. With 215 career victories, a 15+ win season would probably convince the native Texan, still just 36, to stick around in 2010. And if he gets into the 240-250 wins range, his sterling 18-7 postseason record, would help him considerably.

Halfway across this great country of ours, the Royals’ signing of Greinke was received with pure glee. And with good reason, as GM Dayton Moore hasn’t exactly impressed anyone with the moves he’s made this winter. With new arrivals Willie Bloomquist, CoCo Crisp and Mike Jacobs joining Jose Guillen and Miguel Olivo in K.C.’s starting lineup, Moore will be paying over $24 million this year to five guys with career OBPs of .331 and under.

And then there’s Kyle Farnsworth, who was rewarded for his 1.53 WHIP last year with a two-year deal guaranteeing him almost $10 million.

But, alas, Moore finally got one right by locking up Greinke through his first two years of free agency. Greinke had a breakthrough 2008, finishing in the top ten in the A.L. in ERA, total strikeouts, strikeouts per nine innings and strikeouts-to-walks, and at 25 is poised to emerge as one of the Junior Circuit’s top pitchers.

The new contract will pay Greinke $3.75 million this year, $7.25 million in 2010 and $13.5 million in 2011 and 2012. Assuming Greinke remains healthy (not an unreasonable assumption since he’s never missed time due to arm trouble), he would be a very sound investment for Moore and the Royals.

To illustrate this point we’ve used the table below to compare Greinke’s metrics with other right-handers of the same body type (i.e. between six-feet and Greinke’s six-foot-three) and pitching style who earned more than $10 million in 2008. In the spirit of conservatism we’ve assumed that Greinke at 27 and 28, his prime years when he’ll be earning $13.5 million, will perform exactly as he did as a 24-year-old in ’08 and not experience the statistical spike most power pitchers do when they reach their late twenties.

Player Salary Innings ERA WHIP K/BB

Greinke $13.5mm 202.3 3.47 1.28 3.27

Oswalt $13.0mm 208.7 3.54 1.18 3.51
Hudson $13.0mm 142.0 3.33 1.16 2.13
Vazquez $11.5mm 208.3 4.67 1.32 3.28
Sheets $11.0mm 198.3 3.09 1.15 3.36

After examining the evidence provided, it’s clear that even with the conservative estimate of his future performance, Greinke is easily on a par with his contemporaries earning eight figures per season. Now throw in the fact that salaries will escalate between 2008 and 2011-12 (when Greinke is due his $13.5 million per annum) and it becomes obvious that the Royals got themselves one heck of a deal.

And for that they have the privilege of sharing the headlines with the vaunted Yankees.

At least for a day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Trade Fair: All’s Wells for Yankees

The Yankees, by most accounts, had a tremendous offseason. After finishing out of the money for the first time since Bill Clinton’s first summer in office, the organization went on a $423 million spending spree which netted Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. In addition, GM Brian Cashman traded for power hitter Nick Swisher.

Despite all the fun Cashman has had playing with the Steinbrenners’ money, his job is not finished. The Yankees still have several holes, the largest of which is in the middle of their outfield. In fact, if Spring Training started tomorrow, manager Joe Girardi would be faced with the daunting task of determining who from the motley crew of Brett Gardner, Johnny Damon and Melky Cabrera will patrol center field.

Frankly put, none of the three has any business logging significant time in center for a contending team. Gardner’s a gifted fielder who can fly, but he was overmatched in 127 big league at bats last year to the tune of .228/.283/.299.

Damon can still hit, as evidenced by his .303/.375/.461 effort in 2008, but chronic leg and ankle problems make his durability a big question mark. Plus, his popgun arm makes him a natural fit in left field.

Cabrera regressed significantly at the plate in ’08 and most scouts agree that his ceiling is that of a fourth outfielder.

As a result, the Yankees’ lack of a viable center fielder combined with the Blue Jays’ dubious financial situation (discussed below) paves the way for an intriguing intra-divisional blockbuster in which New York sends outfielder Xavier Nady, young starter Ian Kennedy and prospect Austin Jackson north of the border in exchange for center fielder Vernon Wells.

Let’s first dissect how this trade impacts the Yankees. In Wells, 30, Cashman has the opportunity to acquire one of baseball’s best all-round center fielders still in his prime. He’s a three-time Gold Glove winner, whose excellent instincts and cannon arm compensate for average speed.

Wells’ superb defense notwithstanding, it’s on offense where the Yankees would really reap the benefits of adding the two-time All-Star to the mix. While the addition of Teixeira will certainly instill fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers, that alone won’t completely offset the loss of free agents Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu – two sluggers who have career OPS’ in excess of .900.

While Wells is not an on-base machine in the mold of a Giambi or Abreu, he’s a legitimate 30 homer threat (he’s hit 28 or more home runs in three separate seasons) who can hit for a high average while making consistent contact. He’d represent a huge upgrade over either Gardner or Cabrera and would be a perfect fit to hit in the five-hole behind Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

Wells’ contract also works for the Yankees. Although he’s owed $117 million through 2014, he’s due to earn “only” $10 million in 2009. Assuming Nady makes $6 million next season (he’s arbitration eligible for the last time in ’09), adding the incremental $4 million to the payroll would still enable Cashman to meet his goal of having an ‘09 payroll lower than last season’s.

Wells’ salary does rise dramatically over $20 million in 2010 and beyond, but it’s important to note that Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon and their combined ‘09 pay of $26 million, all are eligible to come off the books after next season.

Earlier we alluded to the perilous financial straits the Blue Jays could find themselves in going forward. This is true for two reasons. First, the Canadian dollar has depreciated by over 20% against the greenback (a troubling development for Toronto since the ball club derives a majority of its revenue in the local currency). Second, team owner Ted Rogers passed away in December, creating a power vacuum at the top and much speculation that the team will be sold.

Given the economic plight the Jays might eventually find themselves in, trading Wells and the $117 million he’s owed is not out of the question. However, this trade is about more than simple dollars and cents as Nady, Kennedy and Jackson are all capable of making significant contributions.

Nady is coming off an impressive .305/.357/.510 campaign and entering his walk year. And if history is any indication, he should be primed for another big season and therefore able to easily match Wells’ .839 OPS from a year ago. Nady would slide comfortably into right field and enable Alexis Rios to move to center, his natural position.

By acquiring Kennedy, the Blue Jays would be adding to an already-impressive stable of young arms, which includes the likes of Shawn Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, Brett Cecil, and David Purcey. This is not insignificant given the fact that EVERY other team in the A.L. East – even the Orioles -- boasts a plethora of young, power pitching.

This trade would not just benefit Toronto in the long run, however. With the recent defection of A.J. Burnett (to the Yankees, no less) and injuries to Marcum and McGowan, the addition of Kennedy would provide the Jays with much needed pitching depth for 2009. Also, it’s important to note that Kennedy isn’t arbitration eligible until after the 2010 season.

Though Kennedy’s ’08 could be considered a lost year (0-4, 8.17), let’s not forget that he just turned 25 and his career WHIP and K:BB ratio in the minors are a world class 0.97 and 3.5:1, respectively. Perhaps all the laid back Californian needs to kick start his career is an escape from the New York pressure cooker.

Jackson, the final piece of the Jays’ haul, has a skill set that is eerily reminiscent of Wells’ about a decade ago. Like Wells, his ability to take excellent routes to the ball and strong arm make up for speed that’s maybe a tick above average. While his home run power hasn’t yet manifested itself, his bat speed and crisp stroke suggest that he should be good for at least 20 dingers a year once he fills out and adds strength. All in all, Jackson would be an ideal long-term replacement for Wells and fit perfectly between Rios and Travis Snider in Toronto’s outfield of the future.

Friday, January 16, 2009

No Teixeira? No Problem! Epstein has BoSox Ready to Roll in '09

Through the first half of January, Theo Epstein has demonstrated once again why he belongs in the top tier of baseball’s general managers. Thwarted by the Yankees in his attempt sign free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, the Red Sox’ wunderkind was left with two choices.

First, Epstein could have tried to sign a high-priced substitute, like slugger Adam Dunn, in the hopes of recouping as much of Teixeira’s production as possible.

Or he could have ignored the high-rent district altogether and instead set his sights on established players coming back from injuries willing to sign short-term, incentive-laden contracts.

Epstein wisely chose the latter option.

For just $10.7 million in total 2009 base salaries, Epstein inked starters Brad Penny and John Smoltz, reliever Takashi Saito, catcher Josh Bard and outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Mark Kotsay. All are proven major leaguers, who have combined for a total of 8,466 at bats, 5,045 innings pitched, and, most importantly, 11 All-Star Game appearances.

Each of the six contracts signed represents pure upside for Boston. Not only do the corresponding base salaries barely add up to half the $20 million Teixeira will earn in 2009, but each also has a tenor of only one year (though Saito and Bard’s deals carry club options) and will therefore provide Boston with vital financial flexibility should any of the new arrivals succumb to injuries or poor performance.

However, should Smoltz & Co. fulfill or even exceed expectations, the incremental cost of all aggregate roster/performance bonuses is $22 million – a mere pittance given the Red Sox’ planned payroll of $140 million. And looking at each player’s ability and past performance, it’s easy to see how this monetary sum represents just a fraction of the potential on-field return for the Red Sox.

Imagine the tremendous boost the team would receive should Smoltz deliver 130 quality innings and Saito was able to flash his trademark 97 mph fastball and tight slider in the late innings of 60 games.

And think of the impact a healthy and effective Penny would have, gobbling up innings at the tail end of manager Terry Francona’s rotation.

And picture Baldelli spelling youngster Jacoby Ellsbury in center field or J.D. Drew in right against lefties, against whom he’s posted a robust .841 OPS in 508 career at bats.

Even if the six newest Red Sox provide just moderate returns in the middle rung of most fans’ expectations scale, they’d still serve three vital purposes.

First, they’d provide sufficient depth to allow Epstein to dangle other players as trade bait. For example, if the vintage Penny reports to camp in February, perhaps Epstein would have enough confidence in the depth of his pitching staff to address the team’s long-term catching situation by trading prospect Michael Bowden in exchange for either Texas’ Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Arizona’s Miguel Montero.

Second, the presence of guys like Kotsay, Smoltz, Penny and Baldelli will prevent Boston from rushing its top prospects. Now Clay Buchholz can have as much time as he needs in Pawtucket to hone his fastball command, while first baseman Lars Anderson and outfielder Josh Reddick will have the luxury of learning to hit lefties in Portland instead of at Fenway in the heat of a pennant race.

Finally, all six players will provide insurance against injuries. What if four-time All-Star Mike Lowell takes longer than anticipated to return from offseason hip surgery? Not a problem. Kevin Youkilis could simply move across the diamond to third base, while Francona could plug Kotsay in at first, where he excelled in the playoffs last year.

True, losing out to the Yankees in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes was a hard pill for Red Sox Nation to swallow. But Theo Epstein’s decision to sign half a dozen veteran free agents at discount prices could result in a far greater return, including yet another trip to the postseason.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How Lowe can you go: Braves Overpay for Starter

The Atlanta Braves, already in the midst of an underachieving offseason, are on the verge of significantly overpaying for Derek Lowe. Make no mistake, Lowe is an excellent pitcher who has enjoyed considerable success in seven years as a starter; however, he’s not worth the four-year/$60 million contract he’s about to sign.

We’ve already implied how much we like Lowe. In fact, in this very column we argued strongly that the lanky right-hander would be a perfect fit for the Red Sox (a better fit, in fact, than slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira). But what works for the Red Sox obviously doesn’t work for the Braves. With studs Josh Beckett and Jon Lester fronting Boston’s starting five, Lowe would have slid very comfortably into the middle of the Red Sox’ rotation, where his durability and groundball-inducing sinker would have made him an ideal #3 starter on a championship caliber team.

The Braves, on the other hand, are asking Lowe to be their ace. And given the type of pitcher the lanky right-hander is, that just won’t work. A proven workhorse who has not missed a single start over the last seven seasons, Lowe is perfectly capable of posting quality start after quality start over the long haul of a 162-game season. However, what he is not capable of doing is outdueling Cole Hamels or Johan Santana in the heat of a pennant race. And that’s exactly the elixir Atlanta needed this offseason.

The Braves began the offseason by almost acquiring Jake Peavy from the Padres. Peavy, still only 27, is just the pitcher who could have stuck a dagger in the Phillies’ or Mets’ hearts come August or September. He has averaged a strikeout per inning during his career, posted an ERA under 3.00 in four of the last five seasons and won the CY Young in 2007. Plus, at $56 million over the next four years (not counting the $22 million club option for 2013), he represents a fixed cost well within the Braves’ budget. However, negotiations collapsed in the 11th hour and Peavy remains a Padre.

The Braves were also close to inking A.J. Burnett to a long-term deal. When healthy, Burnett might even have better stuff than Peavy. He also would have been aided by a move to the weaker National League. But the Yankees’ $82.5 million offer was too much for the 32-year-old righty to pass up and he’ll be donning Pinstripes for the next five years.

Along the way, GM Frank Wren traded for Javier Vazquez and signed Japanese free agent Kenshin Kawakami. Both pitchers’ m.o. is similar to that of Lowe – innings eaters who will provide quality innings, but will never be mistaken for the ace of a staff.

So with Spring Training just five weeks away, Wren found himself in a quandary. With the acquisitions of Vazquez and Kawakami, he had committed nearly $20 million to the Braves ’09 payroll, yet still had no ace. And with Peavy and Burnett off the table, his options were dwindling. Thus, Wren panicked and gave Lowe and his agent, Scott Boras, whatever they wanted, which appears to be a king’s ransom.

But the question remains. Could Wren have done anything differently?

The answer is a resounding yes.

He had two options. The first we discussed in this column on December 31st and would have entailed acquiring Zack Greinke from the Royals. It would have likely cost the Braves standout shortstop Yunel Escobar, but Escobar is replaceable and in Greinke Atlanta would have obtained a young ace still two years away from free agency.

The other option would have been far more controversial but carried with it more potential upside – signing free agent Ben Sheets to an incentive-laden one-year deal.

When healthy, Sheets’ stuff is right up there with Peavy and Burnett’s. However, staying off the disabled list has been a monumental task for Sheets since 2004. He was actually well on his way in ’08 until he tore a muscle in his forearm and had to miss some time in September as well as the postseason. The seriousness of the injury has been a point of contention around baseball.

Sheets’ agent, Casey Close, claims his client should be 100% recovered by Spring Training and has been willing to share Sheets’ medical reports with potential suitors. Various executives, however, have their doubts and cite Sheets’ lengthy injury history as reason enough to steer clear of a long-term deal (Sheets has missed 32 starts – the equivalent of one full season – since 2005).

The Braves should have taken advantage of this stalemate by offering Sheets a one-year/$8 million deal with another $8 million in innings-based incentives, as well as a $16 million option for 2010 that would have vested after 200 innings. This would have made sense for both sides. If Sheets pulled up lame, he’d be off the Braves books in a year. But a healthy Sheets would have surely propelled the Braves into contention, because when he pitches the fireballer is lights out. In fact, Sheets’ lifetime 1.20 WHIP is nearly identical to Peavy’s 1.19 mark and is better than Lowe’s (1.27) and Burnett’s (1.28).

This contract would have been a no-brainer for Sheets as well. With no other serious pursuers, Sheets would have had the opportunity to earn up to $16 million in 2009 and 2010 and re-enter the free agent market in the winter of 2010-11 while still just 32. Now, he’s left to try and find a job in the worst free agent market since collusion more than two decades ago.

And the Braves are left to fend for themselves without a bona fide ace in a division that has two of the game’s best in Hamels and Santana. It should be another disappointing summer in Dixie.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ranking Baseball's 30 General Managers

As the Hot Stove League continues to sizzle, let’s take a step back and evaluate the guys making all the key decisions this winter. We’ve placed each of the 30 current GMs in one of six categories based on recent job performance as well as past results. In the spirit of fairness, the jury’s still out on nine guys who’ve been GM for less than two full years – they simply have not had sufficient time to make a mark at their new positions. However, there are two notable exceptions: Andy MacPhail of the Orioles and Walt Jocketty of the Reds enjoyed so much success at prior jobs we were comfortable ranking them.

The Elite

1) Billy Beane, Oakland A’s – No GM has done more with less for so long. The standard bearer for other small market GMs. After a down 2007 and 2008 look for the A’s to rebound this year.

2) Theo Epstein, Boston Red Sox – Boston’s immense payroll notwithstanding, he’s accumulated more hardware than anyone since 2003 (5 playoff appearances and two World Championships). Has enjoyed unbridled success going against the grain of sentimentality (see trades of Garciaparra, Nomar and Ramirez, Manny) while delivering on his promise to transform the organization into a “player development machine.”

3) Doug Melvin, Milwaukee Brewers – Surprised? Don’t be. He led Texas to that organization’s only three postseason appearances then laid the groundwork for the Brewers’ first playoff game in 26 years. Last July’s trade for C.C. Sabathia was a master stroke. It won’t get any easier following the departures of Sabathia, Ben Sheets and all-world scouting director Jack Zduriencik.

Knocking on the Door

4) Kenny Williams, Chicago White Sox – Williams changes his spots more than a chameleon. He successfully added veterans prior to the ChiSox’ World Series run in 2005 then shortly thereafter started building for the long term by adding young talent in Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Carlos Quentin and Tyler Flowers. Regardless of the strategy, he just wins.

5) Andrew Friedman, Tampa Bay Rays – Though Chuck Lamar’s regime deserves some credit for laying some of the groundwork, it’s Friedman who assembled the final – and most important – pieces for the Rays’ dramatic run in ’08. His trade for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett was especially brilliant, as was his signing of Pat Burrell at a deep discount. Don’t be shocked if Friedman’s machinations enable Tampa to hold off the resurgent Yankees in ’09.

6) David Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers – Despite a disastrous ’08, Dombrowski’s 20-year track record speaks for itself. He laid the foundation for the pre-strike juggernaut in Montreal then put together a World Series winner in Florida. And he had righted the ship in Detroit prior to last year’s debacle. But after a winter filled with under-the-radar transactions, the Tigers should be poised to contend again in ’09.

7) Walt Jocketty, Cincinnati Reds – Jocketty has been the Reds’ GM for under a year, however, his 13-year record with the Cardinals speaks for itself – six division titles, two National League Championships and one World Series Championship. He’s had a tough offseason thus far, but with most of the mid-tier free agents still unsigned we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Rock Solid

8) Andy MacPhail, Baltimore Orioles – He’s been with the Orioles for just 18 months but has already made his mark in player procurement/development. The organization has also refrained from the senseless trades and signings that had plagued it in the past. A first-rate GM while with Minnesota, as evidenced by World Championships in 1987 and 1991.

9) Mark Shapiro, Cleveland Indians – Had the unenviable task of taking over for John Hart after the Tribe’s revenue streams had maxed out earlier this decade. His Bartolo Colon for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips deal in 2002 ranks as one of the top ten trades of all time. Has done an excellent job repairing the Indians’ bullpen this winter, putting the club in a strong position to contend in ’09.

10) Kevin Towers, San Diego Padres – Has been GM since 1996 – the longest tenure in baseball – and guided the club to four postseason appearances, including the 1998 World Series. Very adept at salvaging useful relievers from the trash heap. Owner John Moores’ current divorce saga has left him hamstrung.

11) Brian Sabean, San Francisco Giants – If this list were complied in 2005, when the Giants were in the midst of eight consecutive winning seasons with four playoff appearances interspersed among them, Sabean would have likely been in the top five. However, life without Barry Bonds isn’t easy. After four straight losing seasons, Sabean’s Giants might finally be ready to rebound with an excellent starting rotation and the farm system in the best shape it’s been in years.

12) Jon Daniels, Texas Rangers – If there was a “Most Improved” award he’d probably win it. He’s recovered nicely from trading away Alfonso Soriano, Chris Young, Adrian Gonzalez and John Danks. Josh Hamilton was a very fair return for Edinson Volquez, while the bumper crop of prospects Daniels received in the Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne trades has left the farm system in excellent shape. The Rangers could very well become the Rays of 2010.

13) Josh Byrnes, Arizona Diamondbacks – He inherited a team already stacked with young talent. His decisions to grant Eric Byrnes (no relation) a pricy extension and practically give away Carlos Quention have been much maligned. However, Byrnes’ trade for Dan Haren significantly bolstered the club’s pitching.

14) Brian Cashman, New York Yankees – By far the toughest GM to evaluate. While the Steinbrenners’ deep pockets have masked his many expensive failures (Hideki Irabu, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, just to name just a few), the bottom line is that the Yankees have made it to the postseason in 10 of Cashman’s 11 years at the helm. Cashman should also be commended for his dexterity in dealing with the New York media and various factions within the Yankees’ universe.


15) Omar Minaya, New York Mets – While he has had some good free agent signings (Carlos Beltran sure looks like a bargain now) and made some astute trades (John Maine was a steal), Minaya should be held accountable for the Mets’ last two September swoons. Where was he last year after Billy Wagner went down and the Mets desperately needed bullpen help? With a new stadium generating consistent revenue streams in a mega market, Minaya has run out of excuses.

16) Jim Hendry, Chicago Cubs – Like Cashman, Hendry’s tenure is a tough one to evaluate. While the Cubs have won three division titles during his reign, they’ve also finished in the second division twice – despite an astronomical payroll. He’s made some great trades (Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez), but some clunkers as well (Dontrelle Willis). There’s no doubt that if Kerry Wood and Mark Prior had not missed so much time because of arm trouble Hendry would be much higher on this list.

17) Ned Colletti, Los Angeles Dodgers – Also a very mixed record. He’s blown tens of millions on signing has-beens like Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, and, of course, Andruw Jones; yet he was able to get the Red Sox to fully underwrite nearly half a season of Manny Ramirez and the Indians to do the same with Casey Blake en route to a division title in last season. And his hiring of Joe Torre offset the Grady Little debacle.

Looking over their shoulders

18) Dan O’Dowd, Colorado Rockies – Aside from the club’s miracle run in ’07, not much has gone right during his ten-year tenure. In fact, at one point the team had posted seven consecutive last place or second-to-last place finishes. The Danny Neagle and Mike Hampton free agent signings rank among the costliest blunders in baseball history.

19) J.P. Ricciardi, Toronto Blue Jays – The Blue Jays have been stuck in neutral throughout his seven-year tenure, with each of his teams seemingly lacking a vital component. In 2008 the missing piece was offense. And with a middling farm system, the result of underwhelming drafts, the Jays will likely be mired in no man’s land for the foreseeable future.

20) Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals – Blame the Royals’ small market status all you want, but Moore simply hasn’t done a good job. Signing Gil Meche to a lucrative long-term deal has been a success, but Jose Guillen’s contract is turning into an albatross. Moore’s managerial hire, Trey Hillman, has also not worked out as the latter lost control of the clubhouse last season. One sliver of hope is the organization’s improving farm system.

21) Jim Bowden, Washington Nationals – He’s developed a strange fetish for outfielders who can’t make contact and underachieving first round picks. And his failure to reach a consensus with top pick Aaron Crow was a huge setback for an organization in desperate need of young mound talent.

Only Time Will Tell

-- Ruben Amaro Jr., Philadelphia Phillies – Huge shoes to fill! He replaces one of the best ever in Pat Gillick following the Phillies first World Championship in 28 years.

-- Michael Hill, Florida Marlins – Has already unloaded Mike Jacobs, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham and Kevin Gregg in his first offseason. Welcome to Miami, home of the cheapest owner in professional sports.

-- Neil Huntington, Pittsburgh Pirates – He’s got long road ahead of him, but at least he got last year’s draft right.

-- John Mozeliak, St. Louis Cardinals – He must do more to revamp the Cardinals’ beleaguered pitching staff.

-- Tony Reagins, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim –The big market Angels have been strangely quiet after losing Mark Teixeira. Watch this guy over the next month.

-- Bill Smith, Minnesota Twins – He tried to get cute and received a subpar return for Johan Santana. Let’s see if he’ll be able to keep Joe Maurer in the Twin Cities after 2010.

-- Ed Wade, Houston Astros – Ever since the Phillies, his former team, hoisted that World Series trophy he’s looked a lot smarter.

-- Frank Wren, Atlanta Braves – Yet another new GM who has the daunting task of replacing a legend (John Schuerholz). His ability to land an ace will go a long way to determining his ranking next year.

-- Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners – Tremendous scouting mind could have as many as four picks within the top 34 selections in this June’s draft.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rays Strike Gold with Burrell Signing

The Tampa Bay Rays’ signing of Pat Burrell late yesterday is yet another example of the sound baseball decisions now being made in the annals of Tropicana Field. The inking of Burrell to a 2-year/$16 million deal was a master stroke by GM Andrew Friedman and his staff for the following reasons:
  • The Rays played the waiting game perfectly. As early as November Friedman & Co saw the downward pricing pressure the recession and glut of available corner outfielders would exert on the free agent market and decided let the market flush itself out. The end result was a downright bargain for a bona fide middle-of-the-order bat whose four-year OPS is a robust .890. By comparison, Raul Ibanez, the player who’s replacing Burrell in Philadelphia, received one extra year at an aggregate incremental cost of $14.5 million. Yet, Ibanez is four-and-a-half years older than Burrell and has a four-year OPS of just .830.
  • Speaking of deal length, the fact that Burrell’s contract has a tenor of two years is another coup for Tampa Bay. Because Burrell’s a player with classic “old man” skills (i.e. he hits for power and shows patience at the plate but is unathletic with slow-twitch actions), he probably will not age as gracefully as the typical 32-year-old major leaguer. Thus, by signing Burrell to a short-term deal, the Rays have in effect taken out an insurance policy against a washed up Burrell tying up a significant portion of their payroll for years to come.
  • Burrell is a well below replacement level fielder, who, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN, was removed for a late inning defensive replacement in 100 of the Phillies 154 games and was assigned a minus-20 defensive rating by the Fielding Bible. This, however, will be of no concern to the Rays, who plan on using Burrell exclusively at DH. In addition, the Rays hope that keeping Burrell off the field in 2009 will prevent a repeat last season when he faded down the stretch. Burrell’s second half line of .215/.313/.413 paled in comparison to his first half, when he hit .275/.404/.575.
  • By adding Burrell, the Rays have obtained a right-handed foil to slugger Carlos Pena. With Burrell protecting him in the lineup (as opposed to Cliff Floyd or Johnny Gomes), Pena should see a steadier diet of fastballs and likely enjoy a season which closely resembles his monstrous .282/.411/.627 effort in 2007.

Aside from possibly finding one more reliever to round out their bullpen, the Rays’ offseason shopping spree is complete. And to think, it cost them less than $20 million dollars – a mere $425 million less than the Yankees. Yet – call us crazy – the two teams will likely be separated by mere inches in 2009.